A Research Paper By Christopher Foley, Career Coach, IRELAND
Toolset to Manage Momentum in Coaching to Support Their Client
Momentum is a pervasive, intangible phenomenon, which occurs in all aspects of life. When managed and harnessed, it becomes very powerful and can contribute significantly to the success and achievement of goals. Momentum, as it is in many other domains, is very present in ‘coaching’. Momentum channeled in the correct direction can benefit the client and improve the possibility of moving them forward to achieve their goal. A coach’s ability to support their client’s navigation of the varying occurrences of momentum through a coaching session/partnership is inherent to good coaching. Application of the ICF Competencies provides a coach with the toolset to manage momentum to best support their client.
Momentum has many definitions, largely dependent on the context and for this paper, it is defined as; ‘strength or force that keeps growing’ . Momentum came into existence in the context of ‘the mass and motion of a physical object’ but now that concept is applied to people, teams, and organizations.
Momentum is a phenomenon that emerges, builds and gathers force, and then dissipates. People associate momentum, predominantly, in the positive sense; that if you have momentum there are benefits to be gotten from it. The converse, negative momentum, is also a very real thing, it also emerges, builds, and gathers force, but in the wrong direction. The stronger negative momentum becomes, the more difficult it is to halt or reverse.
Momentum can often be associated with sport; a team has momentum and goes on to win the game or the championship even. Other studies broadened the application of momentum beyond sport or game competition to include activities such as completion of nonathletic tasks  and financial decision-making .
Momentum is ubiquitous, it’s in every walk of life and can be extremely powerful. Occurrences of momentum vary in frequency and duration. The higher the frequency and the longer the duration, the more likely there are significant consequences, be them positive or negative.
Momentum Can Have Different Scope
Intra; it can be in the minute, very much inside the event, e.g. inside a sporting game, inside a coaching session.
Inter; is the occurrence of momentum which traverses events, e.g. across several sequential sporting games, a team generates momentum (i.e. consecutive wins), or across a coaching engagement, where a client builds momentum from session to session.
Intra-momentum can very much feed inter-momentum. The momentum generated at the intra level can be the building block for the longer-term inter momentum.
Momentum in the Context of Coaching
Momentum occurs at two different levels of coaching. It occurs across individual coaching sessions (inter), meaning a client can experience a good coaching session and momentum carries over into the next session, the confidence of the client increases both in themselves and in coaching as a profession. The positive momentum generated in a session (intra) increases the chance of the next session (inter) being successful.
Momentum also occurs inside an individual coaching session. A client, through a coach’s powerful questions and self-reflection, can become more aware of themselves and possibly what is blocking them concerning their session goal. This can trigger positive momentum and the client can use that energy and insight to move forward towards their goal. Self-awareness on the client’s side of momentum can be a catalyst to building confidence and contributing factor to the client’s ability to move forward.
Why Is Momentum Important to Coaching?
Momentum is a very real thing inside a coaching engagement and should not be ignored or dismissed. Understanding how momentum works, especially from the coach’s perspective, enriches the coaching session. With this understanding, the coach can help the client generate and ride the wave of positive momentum. The coach needs to trigger this positive momentum by powerful questioning and aiding in a client’s self-awareness.
This paper will explore the types of momentum, the momentum lifecycle, and how the ICF Competencies support a coach in administering momentum inside a coaching session.
Types of Momentum
Momentum is a layering process, recursive. Positive momentum occurs when a client experiences positive energy from whatever they are doing and they use that energy to generate additional positivity. As mentioned this is recursive, one positive action feeds the next, a domino effect. When this occurs in the coaching context, it allows the client to move forward in the direction of their goal.
Negative momentum is the opposite of positive. Again recursion being one of its pillars; but the layering is of negative thoughts, feelings, e.g. failure, loss, perceived lack of confidence, skill, or ability.
In the coaching context, negative momentum occurs when a client raises all the negative points related to their topic area and continues to layer one negative implication on top of the next. Think of it as ‘digging a hole for themselves, the further you dig the harder it is to get out! The coach’s goal when this occurs is to help the client refocus and look at ways of changing perspective . If the coach doesn’t help via powerful questioning, it can lead to a negative spiral for the client which leads them to contract.
The coach needs to be very cognizant of the fact that non or poor application of the ICF Competencies could inadvertently trigger negative momentum, e.g. visiting the past with the client, closed questions, asking for more information can lead the client back into the story.
False momentum is an interesting concept. It is when there seems to be momentum, i.e. there is energy generated and forward movement, but there can be difficulty in bridging the gap to the end goal. In the coaching context, the client may think and show all the signs of being in positive momentum, but there is still a barrier that they are failing to breach. The skilled coach must be able to detect this and help the client uncover whatever barrier lies in their way.
Momentum Life Cycle
There are several stages to the momentum that must be observed to understand it in full. It has its lifecycle.
Given that success (vs. failure) is one of the most powerful variables in all of psychology , it is not surprising that initial success becomes the critical factor in the initialization of Momentum. Bearing this in mind, the triggering of momentum becomes paramount.
How does momentum start, how is it triggered? In some cases, there can be a very clear trigger (e.g. a goal scored in a sports game, a very evident awareness of a client in a coaching session (a eureka moment)) and in other cases, it can be a multitude of small events happening in a sequence which builds and gathers force. A lot of these events, which are part of the triggering process, actually tap into the strengths of the team or individual involved and in turn gradually raise confidence.
In coaching, it can be the client becoming unblocked or gaining new learning or insight. It can be a client putting pieces of awareness together (i.e. small wins) which provides them with a more holistic view of the challenge and allows them to move forward. The coach’s understanding of how things like this can trigger positive momentum in the client is fundamental to the client achieving their goal.
These triggering events are referenced as ‘moments of insight’ in . From this moment, both client and coach feel satisfaction and relief, albeit for differing reasons, and then comes a sense of knowing a new direction and a motivation, and a desire to understand more about themselves and this moment of insight. Both coach and client are left with a feeling of increasing positivity and increased validation for the coaching process.
Awareness of Its Existence
Momentum may be occurring, but that doesn’t mean that people or teams realize it’s happening, at least not all of the time. Without a true awareness of its existence, it can be more difficult to harness it (on the positive side) or stall it (on the negative side). Again similar to ‘triggering’, the existence of it can be very subtle or can be evident.
In the coaching context, it can be as simple as the client gradually increasing their awareness around the topic that they have brought to the session. It could be the client moving to action and applying learnings they have acquired in the session. If momentum does exist for the client, it can often be detected through changes in energy, tone of voice, vocabulary, and facial expressions.
In coaching, it’s even more important than the coach observes the existence of momentum in the client and acknowledges it in a non-judgemental way. With strong awareness on the coaching side of positive momentum, it allows the coach to facilitate the client’s ability to harness the positivity which comes with it.
Harnessing / Suppressing Momentum
Harnessing Positive Momentum; with awareness comes the ability to harness momentum. Harnessing it can mean using the energy it creates. In coaching there are many ways a coach can help a client harness positive momentum, e.g. asking the client how they are feeling, asking how they can apply their insight/learning to the goal of the session, asking how they can make use of the new confidence/energy, transitioning to action planning.
Suppressing Negative Momentum; awareness of negative momentum is as important as the existence of positive momentum, some would say even more so. Empathizing with the client when this occurs is an important starting point for the coach. With this awareness, a coach can try and help the client look through a different lens, which will hopefully help dissipate the negative connotations.
Coaches Perspective on Managing Momentum
What is meant by managing momentum? In the context of a coach it means, several things:
- Awareness of negative momentum in a client;
- The coach must be aware when this is occurring.
- Avoid a negative spiral and client contraction
- The coach must support the client to avoid getting dragged down by negative momentum. Reframing perspectives is an important concept in this regard.
- Helping a client trigger positive momentum
- You can look at this as simply moving the client forward towards their goal, but it’s probably somewhat more than that; triggering is such an important aspect of this whole paradigm. It’s not always an ‘AHa’ moment.
- Awareness of positive momentum in a client
- The coach must be aware of the existence of momentum in a client. It can show up in different forms, both verbal and nonverbal
- Supporting the client to harness that positive momentum and extract the most from it
- The coach must be able to help the client use their momentum to achieve their goal, i.e channel it towards the desired target.
- Detect False Momentum
- A coach’s ability to stay with the client as it looks like momentum is positive, but detect that the direction or route the client is on is struggling to achieve the goal of the session.
ICF Competencies Supporting Management of Momentum
Awareness of negative momentum in a client and avoiding a negative spiral and client contraction
Primary Supporting ICF competency; Communicating Effectively, Listens Actively 
- The coach uses this competency to notice the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues, and other behaviors. The Coach observes if themes and patterns exist. These skills are central to the coach detecting negative momentum.
- Example pattern; an example pattern that may highlight the existence of negative momentum is when a client frequently uses words like, I can’t, I am not able, I don’t know, I don’t see, I dislike. When a client chains these terms together is a strong indicator of negative momentum
- Acknowledgment and empathy, used correctly, are important tools for the coach in this scenario when the client seems to be stuck.
Secondary Supporting ICF Competency; Communicating Effectively, Evokes Awareness
- The coach uses this competency to evoke awareness of different perspectives that the client may not have explored.
- In these scenarios, to avoid a negative spiral, the coach needs to try to help the client to look at the problem from a different angle, through a different lens, i.e. change their perspective. Reframing perspectives and the  tool is useful in these scenarios.
Helping a client trigger positive momentum and awareness of its existence
Primary Supporting ICF Competency; Communicating Effectively, Evokes Awareness 
- Mechanisms for triggering momentum map very closely to the ‘Evoking Awareness’ competency. The coach facilitates client awareness, insight, and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor, or analogy.
- For example; the coach can use a combination of acknowledgment, observation, and curiosity to help trigger momentum. The coach acknowledges the reflection by the client, shares an observation of a change in tone, and asks how the client can use the insight to address their current goal.
Secondary Supporting ICF competency; Communicating Effectively, Listens Actively 
- The competency helps the coach detect energy shifts, changing emotions. Similar to detecting negative momentum, this is the core competency to detect positive momentum.
- For example; the coach can check with the client if they are picking up on energy shifts, emotional changes by simply asking; How are you feeling now? The coach can also share observations and allow the client to reflect and respond to ensure that positive momentum is present.
Supporting the client to harness that positive momentum and extract the most from it
Primary Supporting ICF Competency; Cultivating Learning and Growth 8. Facilitates Client Growth 
- Once there is evidence of positive momentum, the Cultivating Learning and Growth competency comes to the fore for the client to harness the positivity.
- For example; the coach can ask the client questions like, ‘How can you apply the learning/insight to move you towards your goal?’ ‘How could that awareness/learning impact your behavior, with your goal in mind?’
- It is easier for the coach to partner with the client to design goals, actions, and accountability measures when positive momentum is present.
- The coach can celebrate the client’s progress and successes. Recall the recursive nature of momentum, it’s a layering process, therefore celebrating a forward step builds confidence and fuels momentum.
Detection of False Momentum
Primary Supporting ICF competency; Communicating Effectively, Listens Actively 
- The coach can use active listening to discern patterns. The false momentum is a pattern in itself. The client has momentum but doesn’t manage to fulfill their goal, there is always a ‘but’ in there, i.e. there is an underlying barrier.
- For example; a client wants to get in shape physically. They know what they need to do, start exercising, eat well, remove alcohol and sugar from their diet. They build a plan around it, but they are not convinced that they can hold themselves accountable. It looks like momentum, but it doesn’t carry them over the line. The coach needs to detect this and be curious as to what is preventing them from moving forward.
Secondary Supporting ICF Competency; Communicating Effectively, Evokes Awareness 
- Once the coach detects the ‘false momentum’, they can use the ‘Evokes Awareness’ competency to help the client uncover what is preventing them from reaching their goal.
- The coach can challenge the client in a way to invoke awareness or insight, e.g. What is preventing you from keeping yourself accountable?
Momentum is a pervasive phenomenon. It plays a big part in everyday human interaction and is a real aspect of coaching, traversing coaching sessions, and more importantly inside a coaching session.
This research has defined three different types of momentum; positive, negative, and the concept of false momentum. The three phases of the life cycle of momentum have been described, namely: triggering, awareness of its existence, and the harnessing (of the positive type) or suppressing (of the negative type) of momentum.
Management of momentum, from a coach’s perspective, was presented which highlighted the benefits a coach can gain by being able to manage it and indirectly the value which a client can gain when coached by a coach who understands momentum and how it works.
The ICF competencies provide the guiding principles for all coaches. These competencies by their very nature, provide the coach with the tools to manage momentum inside the coaching session and make it a far richer experience for the client.
Additional related areas of research that may be worth pursuing into the future are a more in-depth look at false momentum and what underpins it and.
 Updated ICF Core Competencies
 Momentum definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary,
 Flip it, A Coaching Framework for Change, Rethink the way you think.
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